Buffalo Grove mom offers advice for parents of special kids
Updated: September 3, 2012 6:08AM
It’s hard to believe that back-to-school displays are in full force in the stores already.
Before we know it, the kids will be back in class, and life will be back to business as usual. Most students will acclimate easily to the educational, social and emotional responsibility associated with school, however, there are those students and families who deal with challenges and pressures that can make an average school day extraordinarily difficult.
Many of these students have special needs that may or may not be recognized by the school itself. And, for those parents of these children, it can be a frustrating maze trying to find help for them within the school.
Buffalo Grove resident and attorney Sandy Alperstein completely understands this situation. Three of her four children have received special education services through a 504 and/or an IEP (Individualized Education Program) over the years.
Through Alperstein’s experience in working with schools, and discussions with other parents in similar circumstances, a support group was born. “Special Kids, Special Families” (SKSF) hosted informative speakers during their monthly public meetings and was a valuable tool for parents to meet, learn and discuss their particular issues. After many successful years, the group decided to forego their meetings and connect through social media on Facebook, Twitter and Blogspot.
With Alperstein’s dedication and help, many families have benefited by the information she provides on her websites. Alperstein was gracious enough to answer a few questions that I posed to her:
How have schools changed over the years now that parents are learning to advocate more for their own children? Are administrators getting better at accommodating students?
“To me, a big part of the struggle is that the school district administrators tend to be “repeat players,” but new families enter the special education system all the time. So I hear the same misinformation being presented to new families that I was hearing 10 years ago. I think institutions are very slow to change in general, but in this case, there’s even less incentive to do so, since the new parents in the system rarely start out with any more information than those that came before them.
So I think that on an individual level, if parents have a strong knowledge base about their child’s disability and needs, then the school will be more responsive. But if parents don’t know their rights, I doubt the school will tell them. That said, the schools in our area are generally more responsive than average, and I have encountered many dedicated education professionals over the years here in Buffalo Grove.”
What are some of the most common issues that students with special needs are facing and what solutions have you seen being implemented within our schools?
“I think the most common problem facing special education families — as I alluded to above — is a lack of solid information on how their child learns best and what supports & services are needed in the school setting. There is an obvious tension between what parents want for their child (the “best” education possible) and what schools are legally obligated to provide (an “appropriate” education).
So far, I don’t feel that this has been addressed adequately on a systemic level, with special education parents for the most part being forced to “learn on their feet” over the years as their children fall further behind…another problem is ensuring that a child’s IEP is actually tailored to the child’s needs versus a “one-size-fits-all” program dictated by administrative convenience and budgetary concerns.
Again, I think the solution is information, and I think this is lacking in the special education area.
Another common problem is that regular education teachers — who are teaching more and more kids with special needs as the inclusion philosophy (and budget constraints) dictate — do not always fully understand the child’s unique needs. More training and support for regular education teachers and/or a co-teaching model (in which a regular education and special education teacher co-teach in a classroom) can help in this regard.
Also, many parents are frustrated when they find that after all the time and effort they put into producing a good IEP, the regular education teachers do not always implement the program as written. Teachers need to be willing to try new things to meet their students’ needs and sufficient training and support need to be provided to them so that they can in fact implement the program appropriately.
On the positive side, I think the focus on early intervention and positive behavior supports in schools is increasingly powerful…I think that education research is finding its way into education practices, and I have found that our local schools are much better informed and proactive in this regard than they were 10 years ago.”
Are there still any local meetings for parents to get together for support?
“A few years ago, we discontinued our monthly meetings…we would certainly consider holding such meetings again if we could find some “new blood” to help out — so if anyone out there is interested, just let us know! Meanwhile, we do forward on information from other local support groups.” (One group is called the Special Education Forum: http://www.specialedforum.ort/parentForum/wordpress/.)
Are there any books or educational materials you could recommend to frustrated parents?
“To learn your rights and responsibilities as the parent of a child with special needs, I highly recommend Pete Wright’s website, along with his books and other resources — http://www.wrightslaw.com. A book that I found useful on the parenting front is The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. I found it helpful for any child who tends to be inflexible, rigid or easily frustrated. Another great book for kids with sensory issues is The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz…finally, parents should consider joining online list serves, following (Twitter) or liking (Facebook) pages addressing their child’s disability…I have found over the years that the best information you can get is often from other parents.”
As a parent of your own special needs children, how has SKSF helped you — and them?
“SKSF provided me and countless families over the years that sense of community and acceptance that is very hard to come by in our society. We helped parents realize that they are not alone. There is something about talking to other people who “get it” — it’s indescribable, actually. The fact is, knowledge is power, and we provide families with critical knowledge to help their kids!”
Sandy Alperstein can be contacted at the following websites: www.SpedLaw4Kids.com, www.facebook.com/spedlaw4kids, http://www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/specialkidsspecialfamilies.
That’s all for now; please keep in touch and send your amusing camp letter quotes to Aileen Simons atThewritetouch1@aol.com.